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An Eclectic Digest of Science, Art and Literature



Modified: 2017-12-11T05:45:00Z

 



Marriage on the blockchain

2017-12-11T10:40:44Z

by Sarah Firisen When I was in my early to mid twenties and starting out in my career, my grandmother repeatedly told me (and she meant it with love), that if I wasn’t careful, I’d quickly end up an old...by Sarah Firisen When I was in my early to mid twenties and starting out in my career, my grandmother repeatedly told me (and she meant it with love), that if I wasn’t careful, I’d quickly end up an old maid. The day she watched me marry a nice Jewish boy under a chuppah was truly one of the happiest days of her life. As far as she was concerned, nothing I’d achieved up to that point, undergraduate and graduate degrees, a pretty successful career for a 27 year old, nothing came close to matching the achievement of getting married. And it wasn’t just my grandmother; everything, everyone, all the messaging around me, confirmed that I had participated in an enviable, important rite of passage. Of course, when I got divorced 17 years late, I then participated in another increasingly common rite of passage. Marrying for romantic love is a very recent human concept. Broadly speaking, in the western world at least, marriage 1.0 was about property, securing it, extending it, the inheritance of it. Marriage 2.0 became more about the sanctity of the family unit, elevating the notion of the perfect wife and mother, a Donna Reed like platonic ideal. With the sexual revolution and the rise of feminism, we moved to marriage 3.0, the marriage of equals: two working parents, paternity leave, fathers changing diapers, even stay-at-home days. How’s that working out for us? People are still marrying, according to the APA, “ In Western cultures, more than 90 percent of people marry by age 50.” However, it’s also the case that “about 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce. The divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher.” Just anecdotally, I’m surprised it’s not even higher. I feel like I know fewer and fewer couples who are happy in their marriages and  news about the most recent couple to split comes at a pretty fast clip.  A good friend and I used to have this conversation all the time and she’d say “I really only know one couple who’ve been married for a while who I really think are genuinely happy together.” Well guess what, they’re now divorced as well. And yet, despite the statistics, despite being surrounded by a deluge of examples of the failure of marriage as an institution, people keep doing it. Of course, the idea of “The Wedding”, the greatest day of your life, saying “Yes to the dress”, pledging to love honor and obey Mr Right till death do us part, the whole fantasy is constantly perpetuated in our culture (and not just by our Jewish grandmothers). And woman after woman, puts on a white dress and walks down that aisle complacent in the certain knowledge that HER marriage will be different. But it rarely is. To me, the most astounding thing about modern marriage is how easy it is to get into and how hard it is to get out of. In New York City, it’s pretty easy to get a marriage certificate. Show identification, swear there are no legal impediments to your marriage, you’re done. Get divorced, that’s another matter. In New York State, you have to hire an attorney to file for divorce for you. When my ex-husband and I got divorced, it was very amicable. We agreed to all the financial and child care arrangements between us and decided to share the attorney (which basically meant that he had an attorney and I waived my rights to be represented by one.) And even then, this took months and cost a few thousand dollars! In Massachusetts, if you have children under 18 and want to divorce,  both parents have to take mandatory parent education class (and pay $80 each for the privilege), “These programs help parents of children under 18 understand and handle the challenges to their families caused by divorce, and address and reduce reduce the stress their children may experience.” Of course, no one makes you take such a class before you g[...]



Ditties, Dirges, and Duels

2017-12-11T10:38:19Z

by Michael Liss I have a problem. Each December I write a political New Year's ditty to send to friends and family. I've had a good time with them, even when the news (at least from my perspective) is less...by Michael Liss I have a problem. Each December I write a political New Year's ditty to send to friends and family. I've had a good time with them, even when the news (at least from my perspective) is less than cheery. I get to crib shamelessly from great authors of the past, ruin perfectly good metre with my tuneless ear, and throw in some real groaners. My "Mitchie at the Bat" is considered a classic of the genre, and even last year's dirge-y "Wreck of the Hillary C" induced a small avalanche of comments from the similarly agonized. But I'm blocked. Eleven months of government by cattle-prod has depleted my mirth supply, so, in a last-minute Hail Mary, I am going to recharge by pivoting to a dispassionate discourse about something we are all passionate about—money. Not Bitcoin, or something esoteric that's way above my humble understanding, but plain old cash—the real stuff, actual specie, as in old coins. I happen to have a few. Not many, and they don't have much in the way of numismatic value, but they are a treasure trove of history, and history cheers me up. About a dozen assorted coins dating from the late 18th Century to 1892, all from a worn-out purse my grandmother found in her basement catacombs. Among them were some two-cent pieces from the 1860s, a half-dime, an 1803 large penny, a commemorative coin from the Columbian Exposition, and an absolutely exquisite 1826 Capped Bust half-dollar. To a junkie like me (for history, not necessarily for coins) they are all wonderful. Collectively, they tell a story that starts with 16 states and ends with 44, of powdered wigs and multi-hour speechifying, several wars, horses and stagecoaches, cotton pickers and cotton merchants, the creation of whole new cities out of swamp, and the building of an empire (by whatever means necessary) that stretched across the continent. I was particularly lucky to have that 1826 half because, while it might have been the least rare, it had more stories to tell than I originally anticipated. It was in unusually good condition, well struck (perhaps early in the year, when the dies were still new) and with a faint patina that enhanced its beauty. Today's pocket change doesn't have much personality, but this half-dollar had elegance and character and craft, and even a little provenance to intrigue. This half had something to say. The design was by John Reich, a German immigrant who arrived here in 1800 (the model was supposedly his "fat German Mistress"). His work was noticed by Thomas Jefferson, who arranged for the US Mint to hire him as an assistant to the Engraver…but first they had to redeem his bond--because Reich came here as a bondsman, owing twenty guineas, to be paid off by working for $1 per week, for two years, for a Philadelphia engraver. Beyond that rather stark reminder that the unalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence allowed for a few business transactions, it also turns out that 1826 was a rather unexpectedly significant year, one that not only had the poetic passings of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (both on July 4, the 50th Anniversary of the ratification of the Declaration), but a spicy brew of political chaos which included a duel of honor that might have, but didn't, alter the course of American History. As anyone of us who was around in 2008 can attest to, it's amazing how quickly things can change in politics. Things were going so well in James Monroe's first term that, in 1820, he ran unopposed for a second. But by the 1824 Election, his Era of Good Feelings had run its course. The only viable political party, the Democratic-Republican party, was riven with internal disagreements, and, in what had to be the oddest Presidential contest in American history, four candidates, all nominally Democratic-Republican, ran against one another. Three were giants—John [...]



Perceptions

2017-12-11T05:35:00Z

Stephen Shore. Lookout Hotel, Ogunquit, Maine. July 16, 1974. More here, here, and here. Current show at MoMA.

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Stephen Shore. Lookout Hotel, Ogunquit, Maine. July 16, 1974.

More here, here, and here.

Current show at MoMA.

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Einstein's Brain

2017-12-11T10:35:32Z

by Leanne Ogasawara Einstein was adamant. He did not want a large public funeral. He wanted to be immediately cremated with his ashes scattered before anyone had time to make a fuss. Fair enough, right? Einstein biographer Walter Isaacson reminds...by Leanne Ogasawara Einstein was adamant. He did not want a large public funeral. He wanted to be immediately cremated with his ashes scattered before anyone had time to make a fuss. Fair enough, right? Einstein biographer Walter Isaacson reminds us of the 1727 funeral of Sir Isaac Newton. Like Einstein, Newton was a superstar of his day. And so not surprisingly, Newton was buried with the highest honors at Westminster Abbey in London. Pallbearers included not only the lord high chancellor, but two dukes and three earls. Most of the fellows of the Royal Society were there as well to honor one of the greatest scientists the world had ever known. Einstein, says Isaacson, could have easily commanded such a large-scale state funeral. For Einstein was held in similarly high esteem by the people of his time. President Eisenhower famously declared that no other man has contributed more to the expansion of knowledge in the 20th century than Einstein. Many felt he was the greatest man of the twentieth century and a state funeral would have been not only appropriate --but expected. Einstein, however, had other ideas. And immediately after his death on April 18, 1955, he was quietly cremated in Trenton, New Jersey. This took place on the afternoon he died before most people had even heard the news. The cremation was attended by all of twelve people; after which his ashes were scattered in the nearby Delaware River, as his great friend and Princeton colleague Otto Nathan read a few lines from Goethe's poetry. This quiet funeral, for me, perfectly captures the man that was Einstein. He had wanted to be quickly cremated with no fanfare because, he said, he did not want his final resting place to become an object of morbid fascination. But, alas, this was not to be. In what is an absolutely outrageous story, Einstein's brain was stolen. It then took on a life of its own as kind traveling relic around the country. How is this possible? As is well-known, Einstein died on April 167, 1955 from an abdominal aneurism. He died in Princeton Hospital, and the autopsy took place there. Otto Nathan was standing by and watched horrified as the pathologist performing the autopsy took an electric saw and cut open Einstein's skull to extract his brain. This pathologist then--without permission-- embalmed Einstein's brain. Einstein's son Hans Albert was justifiably furious when he heard from Nathan what had happened and called the hospital to complain, but the mild-mannered pathologist Thomas Harvey assured him that it had been done in the name of science. And "Your father surely would have wanted that." When news got out, institutions and scientists from around the world begged Harvey for some of the brain to study, but Harvey refused and guarded it like he would a religious relic, keeping it with him as he moved from place to place around the country. It's true. Then, in what is even more mind-boggling, when Harvey left Princeton Hospital he had the gall to take the brain with him! Prior to this first he had sent the specimen to Philadelphia where it was cut into 240 slices and preserved in celloidin for future transfer onto scientific slides. The slices were then stored in two mason jars which Harvey then carted from place to place with him around the country. Not living a very stable life, he would sometimes send a specimen out willy-nilly to random scientists whose work caught his eye! But very few scientific papers were ever written --and finally after forty years of what can only be described as a crime against humanity, Harvey decided to bring the remains back to the Princeton Hospital! And so, Einstein's career as a wandering relic came to an end.  Isaacson tells the story in the epilogue of[...]



Monday Hot Takes!

2017-12-11T10:32:13Z

by Akim "Hot Cha Cha" Reinhardt *Omg, so excited about Prince Harry announcing he's getting hitched to the absolutely fabulous Meghan Markle. Way to go, royal family! *The Trump presidency continues shifting Foucualtian microtechnologies power, including the reinforcement select biopower...by Akim "Hot Cha Cha" Reinhardt *Omg, so excited about Prince Harry announcing he's getting hitched to the absolutely fabulous Meghan Markle. Way to go, royal family! *The Trump presidency continues shifting Foucualtian microtechnologies power, including the reinforcement select biopower apparatuses around immigration and race but, despite this, has thoroughly betrayed earlier promises to disrupt capitalism! *Yes, it is a major bummer that the Magnificent Markle won't be going by the title "Princess Meghan," thereby ruining the theme of many a birthday party, but at least the Windsor Castle clan can finally begin weeding out the hemophilia and polydactylism. *The funny man from frigid Minnesota is in some serious hot water. And we're not talking about Lou Grant! Serial molester/groper/tongue-down-your-mouther/sleep-therapist-from-Hell Al Franken resigned from the Senate last week after a cohort of his peers pressured him to step down. Sadly, frothing, myopic Dems who value scoring political points and cocktail party Suart Smalley impersonations more than challenging America's ingrained misogyny could not be consoled by the great equalizer: Minnesota's Democratic governor is filling Franken's seat, which won't even be contested for nearly a year, so there's plenty of time to install and establish a new incumbent. No matter . . . the party's Kardashian wing values appearances over everything else, and is working fervently to remind each and every last American that so long as Franken didn't rape and murder toddler cancer patients, he's way, way better than Roy Moore! *Hot Hollywood Rumor: Quentin Tarrantino is pitching an R-rated Start Trek film to franchise impresario J.J. Abrams, who's excited about the idea, according to early reports. And fans think the long running series of futuristic, interstellar morality plays is the prefect setting for Tarrantino to update his white boy gender and racial revenge fantasies while having actors casually toss around the word "nigger." Early casting possibilities include Samuel L. Jackson as a potty mouthed, hyper emotional Mr. Spock and Uma Thurman as a sword-wielding, heroin snorting, track suit bedecked Klingon warlord. Hell yeah! *Chester Cheeto in Chief, a.k.a. Little Hands of Doom, a.k.a. Donnie Dinger Hump-n-Trumper publicly announced that the United States now recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital and will soon be moving its embassy there. This made a lot of Christians and Jews happy while pissing off a lot of Muslims, but as Meatloaf so poignantly reminded us, "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad." Then again, a happy little sinner like yours truly should probably be concerned about anything that might speed up Christ's return. I mean, I can live with missing the Rapture if I can still dance to Blondie's version of it, but I fear that it could lead to a major fashion faux pas as I have no idea what all us atheists are supposed to wear when we get vacuum sucked down to Hell. But hey, at least no one down there'll be voting Republican! *Meanwhile, Mr. No Smiles, Secretary of the ExxonMobil Corporate State Rex Tillerson says the U.S. is not moving it's embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem this year, and almost certainly won't next year either. Mr. Little Donnie Donnie Poo Poo even already signed the pro forma, semi-annual security waiver that prevents such a move, which presidents have been signing for decades. No wonder Sexy Rexy's about to get shit canned! *Quickie Poll: What's your favorite form of nostalgia?A) Classic Rock radioB) ESPN Classic TelevisionC) Listening to old people complain about Political Correctness like it's still 1992(Results below) *Speaking of Hot Takes, it do[...]



CATSPEAK

2017-12-11T10:28:49Z

by Brooks Riley

by Brooks Riley

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Moretti and the Stanford Literary Lab: Computational criticism in two senses and the prospect of a new approach to literary studies

2017-12-11T10:23:57Z

by Bill Benzon Franco Moretti and his colleagues at the Stanford Literary Lab have collected a number of their pamphlets into a book: Canon/Archive: Studies in Quantitative Formalism by Franco Moretti (Author, Editor), Mark Algee-Hewitt, Sarah Allison, Marissa Gemma, Ryan...by Bill Benzon Franco Moretti and his colleagues at the Stanford Literary Lab have collected a number of their pamphlets into a book: Canon/Archive: Studies in Quantitative Formalism by Franco Moretti (Author, Editor), Mark Algee-Hewitt, Sarah Allison, Marissa Gemma, Ryan Heuser, Matthew Jockers, Holst Katsma, Long Le-Khac, Dominique Pestre, Erik Steiner, Amir Tevel, Hannah Walser, Michael Witmore, Irena Yamboliev, published by n+1. That book is the occasion of this essay, which thus resembles a review in some, but only some, respects. If it’s only a review that interests you, then perhaps I can save you the trouble of a rather long read. Canon/Archive is an important book of literary criticism, likely as important as any published this year. It is also rather technical in places. But you can skate over those spots if you’re determined to read the whole book. Look at the charts and diagrams, they’re the heart of the book. That in itself is important to note; the book is full of charts and diagrams. That is unheard of in standard literary criticism. It’s a sign of the fact that Canon/Archive embodies a new mode of thought, perhaps the first since the advent of the so-called New Criticism before World War II (though mostly after the war). A new mode of thought! Heavens to Betsy! As Moretti notes in his preface, “Images come first ... because – by visualizing empirical findings – they constitute the specific object of study of computational criticism” (xi). Think of it, visually, of course. You run the programs, visualize the results, and then write the text to support, explicate, and reflect on the implications of those visualizations. Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore. For those who decide to brave the whole essay, here's a piece of advice: If you find something boring or a bit picky, do what I always do, skip over it. You can always come back. The Collaboratory But why, you may ask, why all those authors for this one book, fourteen of them? Here’s what the Stanford Literary Lab has to say about collaboration: At the Lab, all research is collaborative, even when the outcome ends up having a single author. We hold frequent group meetings to evaluate the progress of the experiments, the status of existing hypotheses, and the promise (and problems…) of future developments. Most of our meetings are limited to those directly engaged in the research; however, four or five per quarter are open to whomever is interested in our work. So, this is a collective project. As Moretti explains in his preface, “Literature, Measured” – which originally appeared as Literary Lab Pamphlet 12, April 2016: I would say that almost every project goes through two very different stages. In the initial phase, the group functions like a single organism, where every individual attends to a specific task. The first of such tasks is clearly that of programming: something Matthew Jockers laid the foundations for even before the Lab was officially opened, and Ryan Heuser sustained over the years with his unique imaginative talent, and whose mathematical implications have eventually been made clear to us all by Mark Algee-Hewitt. On the basis of programming, much more becomes possible: from the refinement of the corpus to the analysis of initial results; from the review of the critical literature to the design of follow-up experiments. This functional division of labor, whose results no individual scholar could ever achieve in isolation, is clearly indispensable to modern research. (pp. x-xi) Think about that for a moment, for it is quite unlike standard-issue literary [...]



What If Stuff Happened That Enabled Trump To Declare A Permanent State of Emergency In America, And Rule As Our Dictator?

2017-12-11T10:17:26Z

by Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash When President Trump took the office of President in the year 2017, few Americans could have predicted the huge changes to come under the rulers that would follow him — changes inspired by his...by Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash When President Trump took the office of President in the year 2017, few Americans could have predicted the huge changes to come under the rulers that would follow him — changes inspired by his unprecedented example. And few could have predicted that this man, who started with an approval rating lower than any president before him, down in the toilet, would end up with an approval rating so high up to heaven's ceiling, it even satisfied him, a man who loved to be adored. His ego feasted on his people's approval like bees feast on nectar, like kids feast on Big Macs with fries on the side, like flies feast on feces. In fact, nothing much might have happened in the Trump years were it not for three events that came to pass late during his tenure, events that came to be known as the Unholy Trifecta. The first event was the drowning of Miami in a hurricane much worse than any preceding one, which hit that city with spectacular results, undoubtedly occasioned by accelerated climate change. President Trump called in the Army to install order when roaming bands of brigands began to rob and kill to survive in the chaos (or so the official line from the White House averred) which set the template for other take-overs by the Army of other cities in various states of trouble, mostly financial, brought about by Republican Governors who had slashed taxes to such a degree that there was no money left for schools, which led to massive protests, which led to the President sending in the Army to install order, and which normalized the military occupation of more and more cities. The second event was the terrorist bombing at UC Berkeley, when five bombs exploded at various strategic places all over the campus one morning, and killed a total of four thousand and thirteen students and faculty, leaving over ten thousand more students variously maimed with a great loss of limbs and brain injuries which left many of its brightest students somewhat retarded in their mental faculties. Three families of homegrown Muslims were charged with this crime (although it later transpired that the bombs were planted by far-right militia supporters from the Bundy crowd). The President immediately moved to have the Army descend on all mosques on the first day of Ramadan and arrest all the Muslims in America and put them on trains running from all over America — for them to be settled in a vast camp in the desert of Nevada. Here they were housed in tents, with food brought in from Wisconsin and other farm states, and here they themselves arranged for schooling for their children and various companies sprang up, their entrepreneurial spirit not having been quite extinguished, and here they established a working society, with Shariah Law being imposed by President Trump, which turned out to be an easy way to keep them in line. Muslims who got out of line were sentenced to death by stoning, and soon peace reigned supreme among them. The third event happened during what came to be called The Last March on Washington. It came the day after Trump was inaugurated for his second term. During the march, there was the unfortunate shooting of two police officers by a sniper hiding in the crowd in an unknown location. The very hour that these policemen's brains spattered all over their nearby colleagues, the President angrily tweeted that if one more policeman was shot at during this protest march, the police had his presidential permission and immediate pardon to fire back at the protesters. That was in fact what happened. An officer went down from a bullet, his head exploding in a massive arc of blood and brain mat[...]



Not necessarily the best ambient and space music of 2017

2017-12-11T10:01:53Z

by Dave Maier It’s that time of year again already – time to remind everyone that it’s that time of year again! I must admit I didn’t listen to a whole lot of new music this year, but I have...by Dave Maier It’s that time of year again already – time to remind everyone that it’s that time of year again! I must admit I didn’t listen to a whole lot of new music this year, but I have definitely rounded up a good selection for you, even if there’s probably a whole lot out there that we won’t find out about until later. Such is life in the abundant times in which we live. The names here will be mostly familiar to regular listeners, but I’ve included a couple of oddities as well. Here’s to a happy and healthy 2018 for all!   frameborder="0" height="120" src="https://www.mixcloud.com/widget/iframe/?hide_cover=1&feed=%2Fduckrabbit%2Fstars-end-annex-2017%2F" width="100%"> [direct link if widget fails] Yagya - The Great Attractor [Stars and Dust] Yagya is Aðalsteinn Guðmundsson from Iceland. His latest release is very much in the vein of his earlier ones, e.g. 2009’s Rigning, which is probably my favorite. Ambient listeners might have to get used to the dance-floor pulse of Yagya’s music, as inherited from his major influence, Wolfgang Voigt (a.k.a. Gas), but that’s easily done, given his exquisite spacial and melodic sensibilities. Steve Roach - We Continue [Spiral Revelation] Also rhythmic, but in a more familiar space music vein, is Steve Roach’s latest, which has, I hear, just received a Grammy nomination (along with Brian Eno) for best New Age album. Space music fans used to be very offended to be lumped into the same musical category as (actual) new agers, but that ship sailed some time ago, so congratulations Steve! Also noteworthy is Steve’s earlier release (okay, late last year, New Year’s Eve in fact) Fade to Gray, which is much more textural and headphone-oriented than this one. Reverberant Evenings - Where were we, my friend? [same] Reverberant Evenings is a single guy, I think, from Palermo, Italy, and his music is indeed reverberant, if not necessarily only appropriate for evening listening. On his website, which he seems not to have updated any time recently, he tells us that A late afternoon some time ago I came home, sitting in the back seat of a motorcycle. Looking to my right the sun drew the silhouette of the outskirts, forcing me to close my eyes. I was very good. Every morning, opening the window, I see the sun again hitting the plants and now I can understand everything. Takes only a moment. That instant the sound fills everything. Kate Carr - we were the pulse of a wire pulled tightly [The Story Surrounds Us] We last heard Kate on my recent mix dedicated to her Helen Scarsdale Agency labelmate Matt Shoemaker, who tragically passed away all too soon earlier this year. What I’ve heard from her so far suggests that she is a major talent. Many sound artists incorporate field recordings into their work, but Kate takes that idea to the next level, compositionally speaking. I’ll be investigating her back catalog while waiting impatiently for the next one. Crimson Sails - Streets [Part I] Okay, I confess: not only is this release from late 2016, but I actually have Crimson Sails’ 2017 release, which is called (… wait for it …) Part II. Unfortunately for our purposes, Part II is mostly guitar rock, so we stayed with Part I. Too bad, their drony stuff is excellent. Trio Mediaeval & Arve Henriksen - St. Birgitta Hymn – Rosa rorans bonitatem [Rimur] ECM Records started out in the early 1970s releasing progressive jazz records from the likes of Eberhard Weber, John Abercrombie, Jan Garbarek and Terje Rypdal. (Just writing those names makes we want to go pull out The Colours of Chloë or Timeless.) They soon (or right away, dep[...]



Super Goethe

2017-12-10T20:56:59Z

Ferdinand Mount in the New York Review of Books: Herr Glaser of Stützerbach was proud of the life-sized oil portrait of himself that hung above his dining table. The corpulent merchant was even prouder to show it off to the...Ferdinand Mount in the New York Review of Books: Herr Glaser of Stützerbach was proud of the life-sized oil portrait of himself that hung above his dining table. The corpulent merchant was even prouder to show it off to the young Duke of Saxe-Weimar and his new privy councilor, Johann Wolfgang Goethe. While Glaser was out of the room, the privy councilor took a knife, cut the face out of the canvas, and stuck his own head through the hole. With his powdered wig, his burning black eyes, his bulbous forehead, and his cheeks pitted with smallpox, Goethe must have been a terrifying spectacle. While he was cutting up his host’s portrait, the duke’s other hangers-on were taking Glaser’s precious barrels of wine and tobacco from his cellar and rolling them down the mountain outside. Goethe wrote in his diary: “Teased Glaser shamefully. Fantastic fun till 1 am. Slept well.” Goethe’s company could be exhausting. One minute he would be reciting Scottish ballads, quoting long snatches from Voltaire, or declaiming a love poem he had just made up; the next, he would be smashing the crockery or climbing the Brocken mountain through the fog. Only in old age, and more so in the afterglow of posterity, did he take on the mantle of the dignified sage. Yet even late in life, he remained frightening. His daughter-in-law, Ottilie, whom he insisted on marrying to his son August, though they were not in love and got on badly, admitted that she was terrified of him. He alarmed people as much as he charmed them, not only by his impatience, his sudden flare-ups, and his unpredictable antics, but by his foul language. In moments of exasperation he would denounce as a shithead any of the great men who had assembled at Weimar—Wieland, Herder, Schiller. More here. [...]



Wacky, weird art made by AI

2017-12-10T20:52:10Z

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Heisenberg's uncertain legacy

2017-12-10T20:48:35Z

Editorial from Nature: The UK premiere of Simon Stephens's play Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle is a reminder that the cultural cachet of Werner Heisenberg's discovery 90 years ago1 is as strong as ever. Physics is in fact notable only by...Editorial from Nature: The UK premiere of Simon Stephens's play Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle is a reminder that the cultural cachet of Werner Heisenberg's discovery 90 years ago1 is as strong as ever. Physics is in fact notable only by its absence in Stephens's play, which is about an unlikely relationship that sparks between the production's two sole characters in a starkly minimalist setting. But the rather tenuous evocation of this tenet of quantum mechanics illustrates how its interpretation in terms of the unpredictability of the world and its sensitivity to our intervention continues to offer an attractive metaphor for artists. Physicists might rightly complain that this metaphor rests on a misconception. That there is an inherent unknowability about how the future will unfold, and that it might be shifted by almost imperceptible influences, seems far more aptly compared with chaos theory — a purely classical phenomenon, albeit with a quantum equivalent — than with the uncertainty principle. To suggest that Heisenberg's theorem proves we can't acquire perfect knowledge without disturbing that which we seek to understand is, in fact, rather to undersell, as well as to distort, the uncertainty principle. A better way of looking at it is to say that certain pairs of quantum variables cannot meaningfully be said to have simultaneous values defined more tightly than Heisenberg's famous bound of ħ/2. Uncertainty is a misleading word for that, implying imperfect knowledge of a state of affairs rather than a fundamentally lacking definition of that state. Heisenberg of course expressed it in German in his 1927 paper, talking of both Ungenauigkeit and Unbestimmtheit; translation is inevitably approximate, but these might be reasonably rendered in English as inexactness and undeterminedness. The latter is closer to the mark; the origin of 'uncertainty' might be ascribed to Niels Bohr's preferred term Unsicherheit, which refers to doubtfulness or unsureness. More here. [...]



I Pay $900 A Month In Student Loans

2017-12-10T20:43:59Z

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Googatory

2017-12-10T20:42:29Z

Scott Aaronson in Shtetl-Optimized: When I awoke with glowing, translucent hands, and hundreds of five-pointed yellow stars lined up along the left of my visual field, my first thought was that a dream must have made itself self-defeatingly obvious. I...Scott Aaronson in Shtetl-Optimized: When I awoke with glowing, translucent hands, and hundreds of five-pointed yellow stars lined up along the left of my visual field, my first thought was that a dream must have made itself self-defeatingly obvious. I was a 63-year-old computer science professor. I might’ve been dying of brain cancer, but my mind was lucid enough that I’d refused hospice care, lived at home, still even met sometimes with my students, and most importantly: still answered my email, more or less. I could still easily distinguish dreams from waking reality. Couldn’t I? I stared at the digital clock beside my bed: 6:47am. After half a minute it changed to 6:48. No leaping around haphazardly. I picked up the two-column conference paper by my nightstand. “Hash-and-Reduce: A New Approach to Distributed Proximity Queries in the Cloud.” I scanned the abstract and first few paragraphs. It wasn’t nonsense—at least, no more so than the other papers that I still sometimes reviewed. The external world still ticked with clockwork regularity. This was no dream. Nervously, I got up. I saw that my whole body was glowing and translucent. My pajamas, too. A second instance of my body, inert and not translucent, remained in the bed. I looked into the mirror: I had no reflection. The mirror showed a bedroom unoccupied but for the corpse on the bed. OK, so I was a ghost. Just then I heard my nurse enter through the front door. “Bob, how you feeling this morning?” I met her in the foyer. “Linda, look what happened! I’m a ghost now, but interestingly enough, I can still..” Linda walked right through me and into the bedroom. She let out a small gasp when she saw the corpse, then started making phone calls. Over the following days, I accompanied my body to the morgue. I attended my little memorial session at the university, made note of which of my former colleagues didn’t bother to show up. I went to my funeral. More here. [...]



David Chalmers: The Philosophy of Virtual Reality

2017-12-10T20:38:09Z

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Oscar Wilde: The Unrepentant Years

2017-12-10T20:31:44Z

Eleanor Fitzsimons in The Irish Times: Additions to the extensive Wilde canon have found new perspectives on a well-examined, but by no means exhausted, subject by paying particular attention to distinct periods in Wilde’s life; David Friedman’s Wilde in America...Eleanor Fitzsimons in The Irish Times: Additions to the extensive Wilde canon have found new perspectives on a well-examined, but by no means exhausted, subject by paying particular attention to distinct periods in Wilde’s life; David Friedman’s Wilde in America and Antony Edmonds’s Oscar Wilde’s Scandalous Summer are recent examples. The most successful of these I have encountered is Nicholas Frankel’s Oscar Wilde: The Unrepentant Years, which examines in fascinating detail Wilde’s prison years and the short time that remained to him after he completed his sentence in May 1897. Frankel, who is professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University, is highly regarded as a Wildean scholar. Although his starting point is 1895, when Wilde was 41, the clarity of his prose, his sympathetic approach, and his talent for building tension ensures that his book will appeal to anyone with even a passing knowledge of Wilde’s life. Until “his swift and fatal decline in 1900”, Frankel contends, “the keynote of Wilde’s exile was . . . laughter”. Biographers who frame Wilde’s later life in the context of “decline and martyrdom distort the truth of those final years”. To open, Frankel exposes the harshness of the Victorian prison system and examines how Wilde’s experience of a regime “designed to break the spirit of even the toughest offenders” almost provoked his “complete breakdown”. Fearing he was losing his brilliant mind, he would ask visitors if ‘”his brain seemed all right”. More here. [...]



Sunday Poem

2017-12-10T15:17:52Z

Shirt I remember once I ran after you and tagged the fluttering shirt of you in the wind. Once many days ago I drank a glassful of something and the picture of you shivered and slid on top of the...Shirt I remember once I ran after you and tagged the fluttering       shirt of you in the wind. Once many days ago I drank a glassful of something and       the picture of you shivered and slid on top of the stuff. And again it was nobody else but you I heard in the       singing voice of a careless humming woman. One night when I sat with chums telling stories at a       bonfire flickering red embers, in a language its own       talking to a spread of white stars:                           It was you that slunk laughing                           in the clumsy staggering shadows. Broken answers of remembrance let me know you are       alive with a peering phantom face behind a doorway       somewhere in the city’s push and fury. Or under a pack of moss and leaves waiting in silence       under a twist of oaken arms ready as ever to run       away again when I tag the fluttering shirt of you.by Carl Sandburg [...]



Zakir Hussain: Horse Running

2017-12-10T13:00:32Z

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voices in our head

2017-12-10T12:28:28Z

Wendy Van Zuijlin in Phys.Org: New research showing that talking to ourselves in our heads may be the same as speaking our thoughts out loud could help explain why people with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia hear voices. As far...Wendy Van Zuijlin in Phys.Org: New research showing that talking to ourselves in our heads may be the same as speaking our thoughts out loud could help explain why people with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia hear voices. As far our brains are concerned, talking to ourselves in our heads may be fundamentally the same as speaking our thoughts out loud, new research shows. The findings may have important implications for understanding why people with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia hear voices. UNSW Sydney scientist and study first author Associate Professor Thomas Whitford says it has long been thought that these auditory-verbal hallucinations arise from abnormalities in inner speech – our silent internal dialogue. "This study provides the tools for investigating this once untestable assumption," says Associate Professor Whitford, of the UNSW School of Psychology. Previous research suggests that when we prepare to speak out loud, our brain creates a copy of the instructions that are sent to our lips, mouth and vocal cords. This copy is known as an efference-copy. It is sent to the region of the brain that processes sound to predict what sound it is about to hear. This allows the brain to discriminate between the predictable sounds that we have produced ourselves, and the less predictable sounds that are produced by other people. "The efference-copy dampens the brain's response to self-generated vocalisations, giving less mental resources to these sounds, because they are so predictable," says Associate Professor Whitford. "This is why we can't tickle ourselves. When I rub the sole of my foot, my brain predicts the sensation I will feel and doesn't respond strongly to it. But if someone else rubs my sole unexpectedly, the exact same sensation will be unpredicted. The brain's response will be much larger and creates a ticklish feeling." The study, published in the journal eLIFE, set out to determine whether inner speech – an internal mental process – elicits a similar efference-copy as the one associated with the production of spoken words. More here. [...]



From Working for Jesse Helms to Writing ‘Tales of the City’

2017-12-09T20:10:49Z

Jim Grimsley in The New York Times: Reading the memoir of a writer you know from other kinds of books can be a glimpse into the inner workings of a mind you admire, and, as in the case of Armistead...Jim Grimsley in The New York Times: Reading the memoir of a writer you know from other kinds of books can be a glimpse into the inner workings of a mind you admire, and, as in the case of Armistead Maupin’s “Logical Family,” it can unveil how a fiction-maker deals with the requirement to confront the truth. Here Maupin undertakes to recount his own story without the mask of the novel or the short story. He is telling us what matters, what really happened, how he was formed. There are two Maupins at work in these pages. One is charming, effervescent, lyrical, hilarious, a name-dropper. The other is insecure, withdrawn, and a mite tone-deaf to the world around him. That they both inhabit the book indicates the real complexity of the man himself, but the dichotomy remains unexamined. Much of “Logical Family” is wry and sharply drawn. We learn a good deal about Maupin’s seven decades: his family background, Navy career, Southern sexual frustrations and subsequent San Francisco awakening. And his fame, of course. There are guest appearances by luminaries, including encounters with Jesse Helms, Harvey Milk, Christopher Isherwood, Richard Nixon, Rock Hudson and many more. There is a good deal of what one expects from Maupin, wit and heartache rolled up into a tidy package, so that any anecdote can bring an ache of longing and a belly laugh all in the same paragraph. There is also vivid, sharp writing, as when he speaks of his grandmother as “this stately little partridge of a woman” or describes a sunset in Vietnam as “a fine blue pencil line across the landscape, the rice paddies a patchwork of shimmering green-gold mirrors.” These stylistic high moments occur most frequently when the book hits its stride, about halfway through, about the time that Maupin moves to San Francisco and, after some struggle, begins to write “Tales of the City,” which began as a daily newspaper serial and later became a string of novels. That Maupin is thrilled with his success is understandable; he earned it after a lot of meandering, and he justly celebrates it. But this tips the balance of the book toward the kind of celebrity memoir that is hard to take seriously, to the detriment of the earlier chapters, which hint at something deeper. More here. [...]



WILLIAM H. GASS’S ADVICE FOR WRITERS: “YOU HAVE TO BE GRIMLY DETERMINED”

2017-12-09T19:35:41Z

Emily Temple in Literary Hub: William H. Gass, author of Omensetter’s Luck, In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, and Middle C, died on Wednesday at the age of 93 at his home in St. Louis. Gass was...Emily Temple in Literary Hub: William H. Gass, author of Omensetter’s Luck, In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, and Middle C, died on Wednesday at the age of 93 at his home in St. Louis. Gass was a boundary-breaking experimental writer (please read In the Heart of the Heart of the Country) as well as a critic, essayist and philosophy professor. Most importantly, Gass was a reigning master of the art of the sentence, and every one he wrote, he wrote with singular purpose. “If I am anything as a writer, that is what I am: a stylist,” he told The Paris Review. “I am not a writer of short stories or novels or essays or whatever. I am a writer, in general. I am interested in how one writes anything.” His work is invested in exploring the possibilities of literature as a form, in cadence, in sound, in weight and rhythm—which makes it sometimes impenetrable but often transcendent. To celebrate his life and art, here are a few of Gass’s instructions for writers and thoughts about the craft. Put all those nasty thoughts you have to use: If someone asks me, “Why do you write?” I can reply by pointing out that it is a very dumb question. Nevertheless, there is an answer. I write because I hate. A lot. Hard. And if someone asks me the inevitable next dumb question, “Why do you write the way you do?” I must answer that I wish to make my hatred acceptable because my hatred is much of me, if not the best part. Writing is a way of making the writer acceptable to the world—every cheap, dumb, nasty thought, every despicable desire, every noble sentiment, every expensive taste. More here. [...]



The discovery of independent life beyond Earth would have deep philosophical implications for us

2017-12-09T19:30:01Z

Tim Mulgan in Aeon: Suppose we woke up tomorrow to learn that extraterrestrial life had been discovered. What difference would that make? Set aside the extreme scenarios of popular fiction. The truth will probably be more mundane – not massive...Tim Mulgan in Aeon: Suppose we woke up tomorrow to learn that extraterrestrial life had been discovered. What difference would that make? Set aside the extreme scenarios of popular fiction. The truth will probably be more mundane – not massive spaceships suddenly filling the sky but, instead, microorganisms found deep inside an ice-covered Moon, a non-random radio signal from a distant star system, or the ruins of a long-dead alien civilisation. What difference might those discoveries make? Would they strengthen or weaken our faith in God, or science, or humanity? Would they force us to re-evaluate the importance of our own lives, values and projects?  In academic philosophy today, an interest in extraterrestrial life is regarded with some suspicion. This is a historical anomaly. In Ancient Greece, Epicureans argued that every possible form of life must recur infinitely many times in an infinite universe. In the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, as modern astronomy demonstrated that our Earth is just another planet and our Sun just another star, the default hypothesis among informed observers was that the Universe is filled with habitable planets and intelligent life. One principal argument for this ‘pluralism’ was philosophical or theological: God (or Nature) does nothing in vain, and therefore such a vast cosmos could not be home to only one small race of rational beings. My goal here is to explore some unexpected implications of the discovery of extraterrestrial life, and my conclusions are very speculative: extraterrestrial life would lend non-decisive support to several interesting and controversial philosophical positions. More here. [...]



The Tragedy of Liberalism

2017-12-09T19:25:17Z

Patrick J. Deneen in The Hedgehog Review: America is a nation in deep agreement and common belief. The proof lies, somewhat paradoxically, in the often tempestuous and increasingly acrimonious debate between the two main US political parties. The widening divide...Patrick J. Deneen in The Hedgehog Review: America is a nation in deep agreement and common belief. The proof lies, somewhat paradoxically, in the often tempestuous and increasingly acrimonious debate between the two main US political parties. The widening divide represented by this debate has, for many of us, defined the scope of our political views and the resultant differences for at least the past one hundred years. But even as we do tense and bruising battle, a deeper form of philosophical agreement reigns. As described by Louis Hartz in his 1955 book The Liberal Tradition in America, the nature of our debates themselves is defined within the framework of liberalism. That framework has seemingly expanded, but it is nonetheless bounded, in as much as the political debates of our time have pitted one variant of liberalism against another, which were given the labels “conservatism” and “liberalism” but which are better categorized as “classical liberalism” and “progressive liberalism.” While we have focused our attention on the growing differences between “classical” and “progressive,” we have been largely inattentive to the unifying nature of their shared liberalism. While classical liberalism looks back to a liberalism achieved and lost—particularly the founding philosophy of America that stressed natural rights, limited government, and a relatively free and open market, “progressive” liberalism longs for a liberalism not yet achieved, one that strives to transcend the limitations of the past and even envisions a transformed humanity, its consciousness enlarged, practicing what Edward Bellamy called “the religion of solidarity.”1 As Richard Rorty envisioned in his aptly titled 1998 book Achieving Our Country, liberal democracy “is the principled means by which a more evolved form of humanity will come into existence.… Democratic humanity…has ‘more being’ than predemocratic humanity. The citizens of a [liberal] democratic, Whitmanesque society are able to create new, hitherto unimagined roles and goals for themselves.” More here. [...]



Why people keep watching the worst movie ever made

2017-12-09T19:20:48Z

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The Heroes of CRISPR

2017-12-09T19:14:50Z

Eric S. Lander in Cell: Three years ago, scientists reported that CRISPR technology can enable precise and efficient genome editing in living eukaryotic cells. Since then, the method has taken the scientific community by storm, with thousands of labs using...Eric S. Lander in Cell: Three years ago, scientists reported that CRISPR technology can enable precise and efficient genome editing in living eukaryotic cells. Since then, the method has taken the scientific community by storm, with thousands of labs using it for applications from biomedicine to agriculture. Yet, the preceding 20-year journey—the discovery of a strange microbial repeat sequence; its recognition as an adaptive immune system; its biological characterization; and its repurposing for genome engineering—remains little known. This Perspective aims to fill in this backstory—the history of ideas and the stories of pioneers—and draw lessons about the remarkable ecosystem underlying scientific discovery. It’s hard to recall a revolution that has swept biology more swiftly than CRISPR. Just 3 years ago, scientists reported that the CRISPR system—an adaptive immune system used by microbes to defend themselves against invading viruses by recording and targeting their DNA sequences—could be repurposed into a simple and reliable technique for editing, in living cells, the genomes of mammals and other organisms. CRISPR was soon adapted for a vast range of applications—creating complex animal models of human-inherited diseases and cancers; performing genome-wide screens in human cells to pinpoint the genes underlying biological processes; turning specific genes on or off; and genetically modifying plants—and is being used in thousands of labs worldwide. The prospect that CRISPR might be used to modify the human germline has stimulated international debate. If there are molecular biologists left who have not heard of CRISPR, I have not met them. Yet, if you ask scientists how this revolution came to pass, they often have no idea. The immunologist Sir Peter Medawar observed, ‘‘The history of science bores most scientists stiff’’ (Medawar, 1968). Indeed, scientists focus relentlessly on the future. Once a fact is firmly established, the circuitous path that led to its discovery is seen as a distraction. Yet, the human stories behind scientific advances can teach us a lot about the miraculous ecosystem that drives biomedical progress—about the roles of serendipity and planning, of pure curiosity and practical application, of hypothesis-free and hypothesis-driven science, of individuals and teams, and of fresh perspectives and deep expertise. More here. [...]